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The Adversary: Book summary and reviews of The Adversary by Michael Crummey

The Adversary

A Novel

by Michael Crummey

The Adversary by Michael Crummey X
The Adversary by Michael Crummey
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  • Published Feb 2024
    336 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

From the award-winning, critically acclaimed author of The Innocents ("Extraordinary"—Wall Street Journal) a dark, enthralling novel about love and its limitations, the corruption of power and the power of corruption.

In an isolated outport on Newfoundland's northern coastline, Abe Strapp is about to marry the daughter of a rival merchant to cement his hold on the shore when the Widow Caines arrives to throw the wedding and Abe's plans into chaos.

That ruthless act of sabotage is the opening salvo in a battle between the man and woman who own Mockbeggar's largest mercantile firms, each fighting for the scarce resources of the north Atlantic fishery, each seeking a measure of revenge on the person they despise most in the world. As their unshakeable animosity spirals further each year into vendettas and violence, the community is increasingly divided and even the innocents in Mockbeggar find themselves forced to take sides, with devastating consequences.

Through merciless seasons of uncertainty and want, through predatory storms and pandemics and marauding privateers, it is the human heart that reveals itself to be the most formidable and unpredictable adversary for each person drawn, inevitably and helplessly, into that endless feud.

Compulsively readable and uncompromising, The Adversary is a masterful evocation of a lost time, and a shadowed mirror to our modern politics of grievance and retribution.

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Media Reviews

"Spellbinding…Along with a vivid setting and memorable characters, Crummey impresses with his dexterous use of language to convey the time period...This gripping page-turner is Crummey's masterpiece." —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

"The sheer energy of the novel never flags. It's the latest superb effort by an author who couldn't be more deserving of greater recognition beyond his native Canada. An enthralling masterpiece." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Crummey masterfully builds the suspense while tempering the intensity with instances of selfless devotion. Crummey has quietly established himself as one of our best writers." —Booklist (starred review)

"Crummey weaves forgotten idioms into dialogue and action, creating a knotty, muscular, incantatory language that builds on Melville and Proulx as much as biblical antecedents…The story may be dark but each sentence sparkles….Exquisite prose. Spellbinding drama.… The Adversary is a magnificent novel that reinvents and subverts the Genesis account until its final page." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

This information about The Adversary was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Good Book
Michael Crummey's "The Adversary" is a compelling and profound work of literature, dealing with universal themes such as courage, perseverance, and the fight against fate. Crummey succeeds in creating a rich and atmospheric world in Newfoundland, immersing readers in the harsh and demanding lives of coastal communities.

Crummey beautifully explores humanity's relationship with nature. The detailed descriptions of nature give a strong nuance to the story, making readers feel the cool sea breeze, hear the waves crashing, and feel the excitement of coastal life. It is not only a background, but also a living and animate element, as if nature itself were a character in this story.

The main characters introduced by Crummey are, without a doubt, the driving force of the story. The life of Abel, the main character, is described so honestly and touchingly that the reader can feel every joy and pain. Crummey succeeds in conveying human complexity and contradiction through his characters, making them vivid and convincing.

The inner and physical battles faced by Abel provide a deep emotional dimension to the story. Crummey explores themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and desire with impressive wit, keeping readers fully engaged in the main character's journey.

Crummey's storytelling style, rich in detail and imagination, creates a thick and compelling atmosphere. Beautiful prose and an orderly storyline make "The Adversary" a deep and meaningful reading experience.

Overall, "The Adversary" is an extraordinary work of literature, capturing the beauty and courage of humanity amidst the harshness of life. Michael Crummey succeeded in creating an unforgettable story, keeping readers enchanted throughout the story.

Janet C. (st. petersburg, FL)

The Adversary by Michael Crummey
Set in Newfoundland during brutal winters, this book tells the tale of a brother and sister battling for control of their coastal fishing and mercantile port in the late 1700s.

The story is violent and cruel which is at times hard to read. The characters are well-developed but so unlikeable it was difficult for me to choose to root for either of them (or the other characters for that matter).

The author does a fabulous job with his archaic language usage and descriptive prose which kept this vocabulary lover entranced in the book.

I am looking forward to reading more from Mr. Crummey. Thank you BookBrowse and NetGalley for pointing me toward this book and author.

Patricia G. (Washington, DC)

One of Michael Crummey's best efforts
Michael Crummey's sixth historical novel is set in the isolated port town of Mockbeggar, Newfoundland, sometime in the late nineteenth century. Two sworn enemies, siblings Abe Strapp and the Widow Caines, are pitted against each other in a ruthless battle over commerce and resources, and innocent lives are ultimately drawn into the battle. Mockbeggar is populated with hard working and resourceful folk, who persist in life and love despite plague, pirates and devastating storms. As with most of his novels, the bleak and unforgiving landscape shapes the characters and moves the plot forward.

The most outstanding feature of the book is his use of language. Crummey is the rare author who can completely let the characters tell the story, perhaps because he is also an accomplished poet, (he has published seven books of poetry). Every character, no matter how minor, is fully formed on the page. His prose is dark, but absolutely compelling. I was several chapters into the book when I realized that I had no idea what was happening in the story, but I was mesmerized by the writing and could not put the book down until I found out. However, by the end, it all comes together.

I personally think this is one of his best books. In spite of the dark themes and shocking finale, The Adversary is amazing. Crummey shows how against seemingly impossible odds, the human spirit perseveres. I strongly recommend this book.

John W. (Saint Louis, MO)

Disturbing Tale about Sibling Rivalry
This was my first but not last book written by Michael Crummey. I plan to read The Innocents next to determine whether it will give me further insights into The Adversary. If you want a book where one or more of the main characters are likeable, you won't find it in this book. it is a dark tale set in rugged 18 century Newfoundland. It's offenses followed by counter-offenses with little compassion or caring for the damage caused. The people caught in the middle of the power struggle are who you root for in this book.

Ruthie A. (Jersey City, NJ)

Another amazing novel by Michael Crummy
I love Michael Crummy, He is one of my favourite authors. That being said he does not write sunny, shiny novels, he writes about hardship, strife, conflict and darkness. His characters live in remote communities in Newfoundland usually reliant on the fishing industry. The lifestyle is rough and danger is everywhere, from the elements, the work, and most importantly the people. Tough times means tough people, add in religion, superstition, lack of true law and order, lack of education and you are going to have danger, suspicion, fear and trauma.

This novel revolves around two wealthy siblings Abe Strapp and his sister, the Widow Caines, both of whom are truly horrible people. Abe is a true bully, a bully with power who answers to no one. His sister is more cunning and controlled. Their evil manifests itself very differently and the havoc they wreck upon one another as well as the rest of the community seems endless. The one person who could restore some sense of order, the Anglican Beadle Clinch, is as, if not more corrupt than anyone else. That leaves the rest of the townspeople at their mercy.

The story is compelling, I struggled to put down this book! I was usually reading with a sense of dread, so this is not a relaxing beach book! The writing is, as always, poetic and evocative. Crummy manages to make the reader feel as if they are truly in this small village, experiencing the cold, the sea, the hunger and the fear. No one will protect the helpless villagers, they must try to keep their heads down and avoid the wrath of Strapp or the machinations of the Widow. On top of the horrors of the humans are the natural elements; neither the sea nor the weather show any mercy. Outsiders are also a danger. It is a wonder anyone survives.

It all sounds very grim, but it is a most impressive, unforgettable novel, as are all of the offerings by Michael Crummy.

Jill S. (Durham, NC)

Power dynamics gone awry: dark, quirky and excellent
If you've ever read Michael Crummey's novels, you know you can expect a few things: a dark, ambiance-rich Newfoundland setting, quirky and superbly crafted characters, and stunningly written prose. In The Adversary, he outdoes himself. This is his best book yet.

Set in a small fishing village called Mockbeggar in the 18th century, there are really three adversaries here. One is Abe Strapp, a thoroughly immoral and corrupt dispenser of justice (who strongly resembles a certain political figure, which I believe is deliberate). The other: Abe's older sister, the Widow Caines, a Quaker who is distinguished by her pipe and the donning of her dead husband's clothing, her pet crow, and her sharp tongue. To say they despise each other is putting it mildly. The third person, The Anglican, holier-than-thou Beadle, who has yoked himself to Abe Strapp.

Don't expect any "likable" characters or redemption here. This is a series of offenses and counter-offenses, with vindictive and yet riveting characters, determined to triumph in controlling Caines Mercantile, uncaring about the wreckage they leave in their wake.

The novel has plenty to keep readers glued to the page: a sibling relationship that gives new meaning to dysfunction, invading marauders, Abe's depraved brothel, scalding, amputations, public whippings, devastating storms, hypocritical religious leaders, a pandemic, and more. Yes, it's a dark tale that focuses on corruption and ruthlessness. But Michael Crummey knows how to milk some of the scenes for entertainment. Think of the old evening soap opera Dallas. You get this: villainous characters who fascinate and repel the reader. It is also a cautionary tale on power dynamics, relevant for today.

I loved this novel and couldn't tear myself away from it. I thank BookBrowse, Doubleday, and NetGalley for enabling me to be an early reader in exchange for an honest review.

...13 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Michael Crummey Author Biography

Photo: Mo Pho

Michael Crummey is an award-winning poet and storyteller. Crummey was born in Buchans, a mining town in the interior of Newfoundland. He is the bestselling author of five critically acclaimed novels, The Innocents, River Thieves, The Wreckage, Galore, and Sweetland, as well as five collections of poetry. His novels have won or been shortlisted for many prizes, including the Giller Prize, the Governor-General's Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and his books have sold more than 225,000 copies in North America. He lives in St. John's, Newfoundland.

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Other books by Michael Crummey at BookBrowse
  • Sweetland jacket
  • Galore jacket
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